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Beavers ‘Establishing Strong Presence in Perth’

LISTEN: Denise Reed dives into what the Beavers mean for Tayside, how they’re counted and how to spot them – Photo Credit: Neil Mitchell

A survey from Nature Scot, who worked in partnership with Exeter University, finds that the number of beavers is growing in Perth.

They’ve found evidence of beaver numbers increasing on the River Tay after discovering gnawed trees, food caches and burrows.

Denise Reed, NatureScot’s Tayside & Grampian Area Manager, said: “We’re using beaver specialists, beaver ecologists, to do the survey.

“You rarely actually see the animal themselves, so it’s been a combination of them either canoeing, or walking along the riverbanks, or checking minor burns, or lochs or burns to look for field signs of beavers.

“And those include things like, obviously where they’ve been gnawing trees, or they’ve built food caches to see themselves through winter, there might be foot prints, there might be sings of where they’re building burrows, there might be sings of where they’re building canals or even finding a breeding lodge.

“So, they look for field signs like that, and they log all of those, into their GPS, and then, from that they use the density of signs to analyse the data and convert all of that information into different territories.”

The survey began on October 1 of 2020 and once the results are in the team will have a more precise idea of the number by summer.

Professor Richard Brazier, project lead from the University of Exeter said: “The survey work is important because it enables us to understand, with an objective approach, how beaver territories have changed, where beaver are living and what impacts, both positive and negative, beavers are having on our ecosystems. 

“When we compare the results with those of the previous survey that we ran three years ago, we are also able to look at the impact of beaver management on beaver numbers and territories, to learn lessons and improve our approaches to beaver management in the future.”

However, the beavers bring with them a mixed bag of ecological impacts, some locals are arguing that the numbers are making a detrimental impact to developed land.

Agricultural plains have seen floods nearby beaver dams and trees fell where beavers have been doing this gnawing.

Problems like these are appreciated by Nature Scot though, Denise Reed explained: “Well, there’s positive and negative impacts of having beavers.

“Beavers are basically eco-engineers, they create wetlands, so what they do is they dam streams, they build lodges in lochs, they cut down trees, they eat rushes and reeds, construct lodges and burrows and they build canals.

“And all of that has a positive impact, by expanding these wetlands it has a positive impact on wildlife.

“By having more wetlands and having dams, you reduce floods, when you have these big floods now it helps reduce the peak of the floods.

“It also helps reduce the impact of the drought, if you’ve got more wetlands, and it improves water quality in our streams and rivers because the dams and lodges will actually hold back a lot of soil and silt.”

Denise Reed also added: “But yes, we do have negative impacts from beavers, all of that activity can have negative impacts, especially on some areas of what we call prime areas of agricultural land.

“So, in Tayside we saw that these animals were released originally in possibly completely the wrong place and without any consolation.

“Into areas of land which were low-lying, suspectable to flooding, had a network of shallow ditches, so farmers are seeing flood embankments breached and their drain systems blocked. So, we basically have to mitigate and manage these negative impacts.

“So, we’ve been providing expert advice to farmers since about 2012, to look and see what the impacts are and to give advice.”

She also added: “Beavers are eco-engineers and create wetlands. They can therefore make a significant contribution towards helping tackle the twin biodiversity and climate change crises.”

And putting beavers impacts aside, Denise Reed thinks that beavers are also a beautiful creature to meet out in the wild.

To try spot them in the Tay, she suggested: “At this time, a lot of people are out in the countryside, they’re outwalking more than they ever would have done because of lockdown restrictions, and so I just say to people in Tayside, just look out for signs of Beavers.

“They’re really wacky and keep your eye peel, and you’ll probably enjoy your walk a lot more for having looked out for beavers.”

Anyone who does spot a beaver and wants to help the team by letting them know, can have their say on: https://www.brc.ac.uk/mammals/recording.php

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